That iPhone ‘On Us’ Offer? There’s No Such Thing as a Free iPhone 14

By Paul Riegler on 14 September 2022
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The introduction of the new Apple iPhone 14 and its siblings has brought with it a spate of offers from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon that appear to offer the latest iPhone for free.

“Get the new iPhone 14 Pro On Us” screams a current and very enticing T-Mobile offer on the carrier’s webpage.  The phrase “on us” implies something that’s not confirmed in the fine print. That something is “free.”

If you’re at a restaurant and the waiter is trying to make up for a small mistake or you’re a regular customer, he might say “dessert will be on us.”  That signifies that there will be no charge on the bill for dessert.

Apparently when T-Mobile says it, what it really means is that it will allow the buyer the dubious honor of using his current iPhone as a trade-in.  Whatever the trade-in value turns out to be will determine the “on us” credit amount.

AT&T is no better.

“Get the iPhone 14 on us” its web page for that item says in large bold type.  All the buyer has to do is, ahem, trade-in his current device if it qualifies.

Verizon Wireless is a bit more honest in its approach.  While using the exact same language, the “fine print” is in the same size of type and clearly visible.

“Get iPhone 14 Pro 128GB on us” the web page reads, followed by “W/select trade-in and select Biz Unlimited [plan].”

So no, Virginia, there is no iPhone “on us.” In fact, taking advantage of any of these offers might raise the cost of the purchase because it’s quite likely the buyer could get more for his old phone on eBay than as a trade-in.

Just as there’s no free lunch, a phrase that dates back to at least 1942 when used by American political journalist Paul Mallon, there’s also no free iPhone, at least not for the latest and greatest ones.

Even the Wall Street Journal has jumped “free” on the bandwagon, saying that the new iPhone 14 Pro could run well over $1,000 “but it might cost some buyers almost nothing to upgrade, given many trade-in offers [available].”

If you transfer a cost from one method of payment and currency (dollars or euros, for example) to another (the value of a used iPhone), the core value doesn’t change.

Consider the following equation, when purchasing a new fairly basic iPhone 14 Pro in Deep Purple (one of the two new colors for the iPhone Pro Max) with 128 GB of storage memory, the list price is $999.  If your current device is an Apple iPhone Pro Max with 512 GB of storage, your trade-in could be as high as $1,000 – if you sign up for a mobile operator’s most costly monthly service.

T-Mobile, for example, requires customers to sign up for Magenta Max, which costs $90 per month, versus $65 per month for the Essentials plan, in order to get the $1,000 trade-in, which is not paid at once but rather in 24 billing cycle credits over a two-year period.  Meanwhile, the customer pays $600 more over the two-year period for Magenta Max and could probably have sold his device on eBay for between $900 to $1,100 before fees, funds which are received within days of the transaction.

Apple’s webpage of such offers is much clearer.

For a new iPhone 14, per Apple’s web page showing individual deals offered by the mobile operators, both T-Mobile and AT&T are offering “up to $1,000 credit after trade in,” Verizon says you can have a new iPhone and get “up to $800 credit after trade-in.”

What savvy buyers can do, beyond ignoring the somewhat misleading “free” offers, is to pay for the phone and make sure to select a monthly plan that doesn’t break the bank.  Yes, T-Mobile’s Magenta Max includes numerous freebies which are actually “on us” including a basic Netflix subscription, a free Apple TV+ plan, in-flight Wi-Fi, and 5 GB of high-speed data when roaming internationally.  If you don’t need all of these benefits, a more basic plan that will substantially lower costs is in order.

Jonathan Spira contributed reporting to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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